Victimising the vulnerable

An Cailín Rua

CAMPAIGNING Tuam Mother and Baby home survivor Seosamh O Maolchroin (centre) with Aiden and Catherine Corless at the foot of Croagh Patrick before the final climb in memory of the babies who died in the Tuam Mother and Baby Home in 1952.

An Cailín Rua
Anne-Marie Flynn

Under sustained criticism for his planned redress scheme for those affected by Mother and Baby Homes, the apparent determination of Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Roderic O’Gorman to ignore not just the wishes of survivors, but the voices of numerous human rights experts nationally and internationally will ensure that he is the author of yet another shameful chapter in Ireland’s history. The scheme promises pitifully low levels of financial compensation, excludes many survivors completely and fails to address issues like vaccination trials, illegal and forced adoptions, forced family separation, and racism.
It follows a litany of previous travesties, from the whitewash that was the McAleese Report back in 2013, to the publication of widely condemned Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes report in 2021 (leaked to the media before survivors received a copy), which dismissed and ignored - and in some cases destroyed - testimony painstakingly recounted to the Commission. Despite irrefutable proof to the contrary, the report claimed to find little evidence of issues like forced adoption and incarceration, violence or discrimination; news that surely came as a shock to those who had shared their lived experiences of same to the Commission.
In response, the minister proposed that survivors’ testimony would be reviewed by an international human rights expert, only to sneakily renege on this promise before it was exposed by the media. The government has refused to repudiate this deeply flawed report, instead choosing to base the redress scheme on it.
Given these repeated betrayals of survivors, it would be logical to assume that the government would be keen to make amends with decent levels of compensation. But no. Instead, those who spent under six months in an institution as a child are not entitled to any redress because, suggests the minister: “they would not have been aware of … been too young to remember their experiences”.
The minister might then explain to us why he launched the First 5 plan in 2018, which outlines the importance of strong start in life for babies? Why is maternity leave necessary, if the first six months of life is deemed so unimportant? What uneducated ‘expert’ decided that six months is the line in the sand for early childhood trauma?
Mothers who spent under three months in an institution will be eligible for a mere €5,000.

Commensurate compensation
This ignores a call from the United Nations Special Rapporteur’s call in November 2021 for “compensation commensurate with the gravity of the offences”. These offences include stealing babies and selling them overseas for profit and involving over 1,000 children in unlicensed vaccine trials without consent. To add yet more insult to injury, those availing of compensation are then prohibited from taking any further legal action against the State. Unsurprisingly, a number of women have already indicated that they will not be taking up this paltry offer.
The trademark of Irish governments since 2010 has been victimisation of vulnerable people; carers, social welfare recipients, people with mental health difficulties, homeless people and people with disabilities have all suffered in some way from funding cuts, neglect and stigma-inducing propaganda. It is no coincidence that these are people who may not have the capacity nor the ability to mobilise and create trouble for the government in response.
Meanwhile, the trademark of religious institutions has been resistance to paying what they owe towards previous redress schemes, and they have not committed to contributing towards this scheme. The biggest culprit is the wealthy Sisters of Mercy. In all four gospels, we read about Jesus furiously driving merchants and money changers from the sacred Temple. Clearly, their descendants found the back door; wolves in sheep’s clothing, modern-day dens of thieves as despised so much by the saviour himself. And what of the pharmaceutical companies responsible for vaccine trials?
Governments of late have been quick to impose USCs and insurance levies and concrete block levies to compensate for poor management of big businesses, so why are they not doing the same to the Church and big pharma? While none of us want or should have to foot the bill, at least for once, the money would go to people who wholeheartedly deserve it. Alternatively, we could pressure our politicians to do the right thing.
It is hard to comprehend that, with Christmas approaching, this government might actually persist with this callous scheme of which Scrooge himself would be proud. It was a golden opportunity to centre the voices of survivors, respect their trauma and finally, however belatedly, do the right thing by them. Instead, those in power have chosen to continue to exclude, belittle and retraumatise survivors. Another chapter in our book of shame.